Tag Archives: Craig Ventresco

FROM EAST TO WEST, EMILY ASHER BRINGS GOOD SOUNDS (Cafe Divine, February 17, 2014)

Trombonist, singer, composer, arranger Emily Asher is so blissfully bicoastal that she makes the rest of us seem as if we’re glued to our recliners.  She flies from Hither to Yon, whisking back and forth from Seattle to Brooklyn, making friends for the music wherever she goes, a marathon runner for good music.

Here’s a very recent sample, from an intriguing gig at Cafe Divine in San Francisco — which began as a duo of trombone (Emily) and accordion (Rob Reich) but expanded in the most graceful way.  The first Special Guest was string bassist Daniel Fabricant, who joined in for a romping ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

Daniel had to go off to make a gig with Gaucho (those spreaders of joy) so Emily and Rob asked the sweet but pointed question, WHY DON’T YOU GO DOWN TO NEW ORLEANS?:

I think Frank Loesser’s imagined ship would be too sluggish for our Ms. Asher, but she likes the tune ON A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA:

BLUE SKIES featured an Impromptu but Expert Girl Trio — An Historic Moment — Emily, Meredith Axelrod, and Kally Price, with Rob and the esteemed Craig Ventresco, guitar:

Meredith showed us the way to MY BLUE HEAVEN:

Now, if you’re reading this on the East Coast and feeling deprived, there is Good News Tonight.  On Saturday, March 1, Emily Asher’s Endangered Species Trio (yes!) will begin New Brunswick Jazz Project’s Women in Jazz month.  They will play at the Alfa Art Gallery in New Brunswick, New Jersey, immediately following a viewing of the very fine film THE GIRLS IN THE BAND.

Details here and here.  The event begins at 6:30; the film screening will be from about 7:20-8:45, and the band will play from 9-11 PM: with Emily, the EST is Tom Abbott, bass saxophone; Rob Reich, accordion.  I’d be there if I could.

May your happiness increase!

“THE DAO OF SWING”: THE MICHAEL BANK SEPTET

DAO 3

DAO (or more commonly TAO) is a Chinese word and concept meaning loosely “the way,” “the underlying principle.”  SWING should be a more familiar word to readers of this blog. The title of Michael Bank’s new CD might be read on the surface as “The Way To Swing,”  but it suggests something more profound: that happy unity when the musicians connect with the deeper rhythms of the universe.  An ambitious aspiration, but Michael Bank’s Septet makes it come alive.

I first met Michael at a Sunday brunch gig in Brooklyn, with, among other friends, Jesse Gelber, Craig Ventresco and Kevin Dorn.  In the most unmusical setting (well-fed young couples speaking loudly about their investments, their architect, and their renovations) Michael’s playing always caught my attention.  He had an unerring sense of what to add to the musical conversation.  (Working alongside and learning from Jaki Byard, Dick Katz, Al Casey, and other veterans had affected him, audible through his playing, arranging, and compositions.)

Last year, I heard his Septet for the first time. Most of the group’s repertoire was given over to Michael’s compositions.  Unlike some “originals,” in this century, they had memorable melodies and voicings.  See the end of this post for three examples from that session:.I was delighted to learn that Michael and the Septet had issued a compact disc of his music.  Swing, yes; imitation, no — creative evocation, yes.  When heard casually from another room, the sound might suggest the rocking little band of Johnny Hodges in the early Fifties, but close listening reveals quirky, surprising touches. The Septet is rhythmically rooted in the great oceanic motion of Mainstream, but Michael’s melodic and harmonic language moves easily between Fifty-Second Street and the present, grounded in the blues and mood pieces.  (His compositions are more than disguised reheatings of overplayed chord changes.)  Michael’s skills as an arranger are on display through the disc — perhaps most so in his witty reinvention of WHEN IRISH EYES ARE SMILING — the Celts go uptown.

Michael Bank, piano, arrangements and compositions; Simon Wettenhall, trumpet / fluegelhorn; Kris Jensen, Mike Mullens, Geof Bradfield, Ray Franks, saxophones; Kelly Friesen, string bass; Steve Little, drums.  The songs are ALTAIR / AZTEC 2-STEP / FOR JAKI / MINOR CHANGES / LL3 / ONE NOTE (by Michael’s mentor, Jaki Byard) / BLUEVIEW / WHEN IRISH EYES ARE SMILING.  The players are more than equal to the material: I’d known Simon Wettenhall, Kelly Friesen, and Steve Little before this, but the collective saxophonists are just splendid: everyone understands the tradition but easily moves in and out of it.

Here are three videos from the May 2012 gig:

GOIN’ UP

FOR JAKI

BLUEVIEW

To hear the music on the CD, the usual suspects:  CD BABYitunes, and The-Dao-of-Swing .  Better yet, come to one of the Septet’s gigs.  And one is taking place this Tuesday, September 17 — from 4 to 4:45 PM at the East River Bandshell in lower Manhattan.  Michael will be joined by Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Noah Bless, trombone; Jay Rattman, alto; Andrew Hadro, baritone; Michael Bank, piano; Matt Smith, guitar; Trifon Dimitrov, bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

May your happiness increase!

FREE AND JOYOUS: TAMAR KORN AND FRIENDS at THE LOST CHURCH (June 8, 2013): GORDON AU, DENNIS LICHTMAN, CRAIG VENTRESCO, DAVE RICKETTS, JARED ENGEL (Conclusion)

She has continued to blossom, to explore, to experiment in the most joyously rewarding ways.  She wants to embody each song, getting to the heart of its emotions, in words, notes, and gesture.  In the words of my friend Davide Brillante, she is “an illuminated person.”  And the musicians around her are clearly inspired by her perfectly pitched extravagances.

The Beloved and I were happily in the audience at a San Francisco venue we’d not encountered before — The Lost Church, 65 Capp Street — when Tamar and Friends took the stage on June 8, 2013.  (It’s a fascinating place for music and theatre and more.)

The Friends (they deserve the capital letter) were Gordon Au, trumpet; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Craig Ventresco, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass — with a guest appearance from guitarist Dave Ricketts of GAUCHO later in the evening.

Here are the final six performances of a glorious dozen, the mood ranging from deep indigo desolation to exultation:

Jimmie Rodgers’ BLUE YODEL No. 2:

AM I BLUE?:

I SURRENDER, DEAR:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

SUGAR BLUES:

CRAZY RHYTHM:

Deliciously memorable, playful music — performances both simple and deeply textured.

Thanks to Tamar and her / our Friends, to Brett Cline, Erma Kyriakos, Confetta and Anatol and Scott for their kindnesses and for increasing our joys.

May your happiness increase!

FREE AND JOYOUS: TAMAR KORN AND FRIENDS at THE LOST CHURCH (June 8, 2013): GORDON AU, DENNIS LICHTMAN, CRAIG VENTRESCO, JARED ENGEL (Part One)

Tamar Korn was a remarkable singer, musician, and presence when I first heard her some six years ago.

She has continued to blossom, to explore, to experiment in the most joyously rewarding ways.  She wants to embody each song, getting to the heart of its emotions, in words, notes, and gesture.  In the words of my friend Davide Brillante, she is “an illuminated person.”  And the musicians around her are clearly inspired by her perfectly pitched extravagances.

The Beloved and I were happily in the audience at a San Francisco venue we’d not encountered before — The Lost Church, 65 Capp Street — when Tamar and Friends took the stage on June 8, 2013.  (It’s a fascinating place for music and theatre and more.)

The Friends (they deserve the capital letter) were Gordon Au, trumpet; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Craig Ventresco, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass — with a guest appearance from guitarist Dave Ricketts of GAUCHO later in the evening.

Here are the first four performances of a glorious dozen:

THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE:

SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON:

LONESOME AND SORRY:

THE SONG IS ENDED:

Deliciously memorable, playful music — performances both simple and deeply textured.

Thanks to Tamar and her / our Friends, to Brett Cline, Erma Kyriakos, Confetta and Anatol and Scott for their kindnesses and for increasing our joys.

May your happiness increase!

SPREADING JOY, MAKING THE EVANESCENT TANGIBLE, WITH COMPLEXITIES ON THE SIDE

It all goes back to my father, who loved music and was intrigued by the technology of his time.  We had a Revere reel-to-reel tape recorder when I was a child, and I, too, was fascinated.

I could put on a tape and hear his voice coming out of the speaker; I could record myself playing the accordion; I could tape-record a record a friend owned.  Recording music and voices ran parallel to my early interest (or blossoming obsession) with jazz.

I realized that when I saw Louis Armstrong on television (in 1967, he appeared with Herb Alpert and the Tia Juana Brass) I could connect the tape recorder and have an audio artifact — precious — to be revisited at my leisure.

I knew that my favorite books and records could be replayed; why not “real-time performances”?  At about the same time, my father brought home a new toy, a cassette player.  Now I could tape-record my favorite records and bring them on car trips; my sister and her husband could send us taped letters while on vacation in Mexico.

In 1969, I had the opportunity to venture into New York City for my first live jazz concert (after seeing Louis and the All Stars in 1967).  I think the concert was a Dick Gibson extravaganza with The World’s Greatest Jazz Band (Eddie Hubble and Vic Dickenson on trombones) and a small group of Zoot and Al, Joe Newman, a trombonist, and a rhythm section.  Gibson told the story of THE WHITE DEER in between sets.

I had a wonderful time.  But I also made my first foray into criminality.  In a bright blue airline bag I brought and hid that very same cassette recorder and taped the concert.  (I no longer have the tapes.  Alas.  Zoot and Al played MOTORING ALONG and THE RED DOOR; the WGJB rocked and hollered gorgrously.)

I brought the same recorder to a concert at Queens College, capturing Ray Nance, Newman, Garnett Brown, Herb Hall, Hank Jones, Milt Hinton, and Al Foster . . . names to conjure with for sure.  And from that point on, when I went to hear jazz, I brought some machinery with me.  Occasionally I borrowed another recorder (my friend Stu had a Tandberg) or I brought my own heavy Teac reel-to-reel for special occasions.

Most of the musicians were either politely resigned to the spectacle of a nervous, worshipful college student who wanted nothing more than to make sure their beautiful music didn’t vanish.  Joe Thomas was concerned that the union man was going to come along.  Kenny Davern briefly yet politely explained that I hadn’t set the microphone up properly, then showed me what would work.

I can recall two players becoming vigorously exercised at the sight of a microphone and either miming (Dicky Wells) or saying (Cyril Haynes) NO . . . and Wild Bill Davison tried to strike a bargain: “You want to tape me?”  “Yes, Mister Davison.”  “Well, that’ll be one Scotch now and one for each set you want to tape.”  My budget wasn’t large, so I put the recorder away.

Proceedingly happily along this path, I made tape recordings of many musicians betwen 1969 and 1982, and traded tapes with other collectors.  And those tapes made what otherwise would have been lost in time permanent; we could revisit past joys in the present.

Early in this century, I began to notice that everyone around me seemed to have a video camera.  Grandparents were videoing the infants on the rug; lovers were capturing each other (in a nice way) on the subway platform.  I thought, “Why can’t I do this with the music?”  I started my own YouTube channel in 2006, eighteen months before JAZZ LIVES saw the light.

I had purchased first a Flip camera (easy, portable, with poor video) and then a mini-DVD Sony camera.  At the New York traditional-jazz hangout, the Cajun, and elsewhere, I video-recorded the people I admired.  They understood my love for the music and that I wasn’t making a profit: Barbara Rosene, Joel Forrester, John Gill, Kevin Dorn, Jon-Erik Kellso, Craig Ventresco, and many others.

If my recording made musicians uncomfortable, they didn’t show it.  Fewer than five players or singers have flatly said NO — politely — to me.

Some of the good-humored acceptance I would like to say is the result of my great enthusiasm and joy in the music.  I have not attempted to make money for myself on what I have recorded; I have not made the best videos into a private DVD for profit.

More pragmatic people might say, “Look, Michael, you were reviewing X’s new CD in THE MISSISSIPPI RAG or CADENCE; you wrote liner notes for a major record label.  X knew it was good business to be nice to you.”  I am not so naive as to discount this explanation.  And some musicians, seeing the attention I paid to the Kinky Boys or the Cornettinas, might have wanted some of the same for themselves.  Even the sometimes irascible couple who ran the Cajun saw my appearances there with camera as good publicity and paid me in dubious cuisine.

The Flip videos were muzzy; the mini-DVDs impossible to transfer successfully to YouTube, so when I began JAZZ LIVES I knew I had to have a better camera, which I obtained.  It didn’t do terribly well in the darkness of The Ear Inn, but Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri and their friends put up with me and the little red light in the darkness.  Vince Giordano never said anything negative.

I began to expand my reach so much so that some people at a jazz party or concert would not recognize me without a camera in front of my face.

The video camera and the jazz blog go together well.  I used to “trade tapes” with other collectors, and if I came to see you, I brought some Private Stock as a gift.  Now, that paradigm has changed, because what I capture I put on the blog.  Everything good is here.  It saves me the time and expense of dubbing cassettes or CDs and putting them in mailers, and it’s also nearly instantaneous: if I didn’t care about sleep (and I do) I could probably send video from the Monday night gig around the world on Tuesday afternoon.  Notice also that I have written “around the world.”

The video camera has made it possible for me to show jazz lovers in Sweden what glorious things happen at The Ear Inn or at Jazz at Chautauqua; my dear friends whom I’ve never met in person in Illinois and Michigan now know about the Reynolds Brothers; Stompy Jones can hear Becky Kilgore sing without leaving his Toronto eyrie . . . and so on.

Doing this, I have found my life-purpose and have achieved a goal: spreading joy to people who might be less able to get their fair share.  Some of JAZZ LIVES’ most fervent followers have poorer health and less freedom than I do.  And these viewers and listeners are hugely, gratifyingly grateful.  I get hugged by people I’ve never seen before when I come to a new jazz party.

And I hug back.  Knowing that there are real people on the other end of the imaginary string is a deep pleasure indeed.

There are exceptions, of course: the anonymous people who write grudging comments on YouTube about crowd sounds; the viewers who nearly insist that I drop everything and come video the XYZ Wrigglers because they can’t make it; the Corrections Officers who point out errors in detail, fact, or what they see as lapses of taste; the people who say “I see the same people over and over on your blog.”  I don’t know.

Had I done nothing beyond making more people aware of the Reynolds Brothers or the EarRegulars, I would think I had not lived in vain.  And that’s no stage joke.

But the process of my attempting to spread joy through the musical efforts of my heroes is not without its complexities, perhaps sadness.

If, in my neighborhood, I help you carry your groceries down the street to your apartment because they’re heavy and I see you’re struggling, I do it for love, and I would turn away a dollar or two offered to me.  But when I work I expect to get paid unless other circumstances are in play.  And I know the musicians I love feel the same way.

The musicians who allow (and even encourage) me to video-record them, to post the results on JAZZ LIVES and YouTube know that I cannot write them a check at union rates for this.  I can and do put more money in the tip jar, and I have bought some of my friends the occasional organic burger on brioche. But there is no way I could pay the musicians a fraction of what their brilliant labors are worth — the thirty years of practice and diligence that it took to make that cornet sound so golden, to teach a singer to touch our hearts.

I would have to be immensely wealthy to pay back the musicians I record in any meaningful way.  And one can say, “They are getting free publicity,” which is in some superficial way undeniable.

But they are also donating their services for free — for the love of jazz — because the landscape has shifted so in the past decade.  They know it and I know it.  When I was illicitly tape-recording in Carngie Hall in 1974, I could guess that there were other “tapers” in the audience but they were wisely invisible.

At a jazz party, the air is often thick with video cameras or iPhones, and people no longer have any awareness of how strange that is to the musicians.  I have seen a young man lie nearly on his back (on the floor in front of the bandstand) and aim his lighted camera up at a musician who was playing until the player asked him to stop doing that.  The young man was startled.  In the audience, we looked at each other sadly and with astonishment.

I started writing this post because I thought, not for the first time, “How many musicians who allow me to video them for free would really rather that I did not do it?”  I can imagine the phrase “theft of services” floating in the air, unspoken.

Some musicians may let me do what I do because they need the publicity; they live in the hope that a promoter or club booker will see the most recent video on YouTube and offer them a gig.  But they’d really rather get paid (as would I) and be able to control the environment (as would I).  Imagine, if you will, that someone with a video camera follows you around at work, recording what you do, how you speak.  “Is that spinach between my teeth?  Do I say “you know” all the time, really?  Did you catch me at a loss for words?”

Musicians are of course performers, working in public for pay.  And they always have the option to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t want to be videoed.  Thank you!”  I have reached arrangements — friendly ones — with some splendid musicians — that they will get to see what I have recorded and approve of it before I post it.  If they dislike the performance, it never becomes public.  And that is perfectly valid.  I don’t feel hurt that the musicians “don’t trust [Michael's] taste,” because Michael is an experienced listener and at best an amateur musician.

But I sometimes feel uncomfortable with the situation I have created.  Wanting to preserve the delicate moment — a solo on STARDUST that made me cry, a romping TIGER RAG that made me feel that Joy was surrounding me in the best possible way — I may have imposed myself on people, artists, who weren’t in a position, or so they felt, to ask me to put the camera away.  I wonder often if the proliferation of free videos has interfered with what Hot Lips Page called his “livelihood.”  I would be very very grieved to think I was cutting into the incomes of the players and singers who have done so much for me.

Were musicians were happier to see me when I was simply an anonymous, eager, nervous fan, asking, “Mr. Hackett, would you sign my record?”  Then, in 1974, there was no thought of commerce, no thought of “I loused up the second bar of the third chorus and now it’s going on YouTube and it will stay there forever!”

I can’t speak for the musicians.  Perhaps I have already presumed overmuch to do so.  I embarked on this endeavor because I thought it was heartbreaking that the music I love disappeared into memory when the set was over.

But I hope I am exploiting no one, hurting no one’s feelings, making no one feel trapped by a smiling man in an aloha shirt with an HD camera.

I don’t plan to put the camera down unless someone asks me to do so.  And, to the musicians reading this posting — if I have ever captured a performance of yours on YouTube and it makes you cringe, please let me know and I will make it disappear.  I promise.  I’ve done that several times, and although I was sorry to make the music vanish, I was relieved that any unhappiness I had caused could be healed, a wrong made right.  After all, the music brings such joy to me, to the viewers, and often to the musicians creating it, they surely should have their work made as joyous as possible.

I dream of a world where artists are valued for the remarkable things they give us.

And I think, “Perhaps after I am dead, the sound waves captured by these videos will reverberate through the wide cosmos, making it gently and sweetly vibrate in the best way.”  To think that I had made pieces of the music immortal merely by standing in the right place with my camera would make me very happy.

And to the players, I Revere you all.

May your happiness increase.

LOVE’S REFRAINS: TAMAR KORN AND FRIENDS IN CONCERT (Part Two): August 4, 2012

Happiness filled the room at the Porto Franco Art Center when Tamar Korn, vocal improvisations; Craig Ventresco, guitar and banjo; Gordon Au, trumpet; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet and violin; Rob Adkins, string bass, had a friendly gathering on August 4, 2012.

Even if you closed your eyes and listened, you would know that the musicians and audience were deeply happy.  It was a privilege to be there and a deeper one to be able to share this experience with you.

Here is the second half of that concert, and my only sadness is that there isn’t a third and a fourth half . . . .

I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS:

OLD-FASHIONED LOVE:

THE SONG IS ENDED:

MISS THE MISSISSIPPI AND YOU:

WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND:

STARDUST:

Oh, memory!  Oh, memory!

May your happiness increase.

THE REAL THING: CHRIS TYLE’S SILVER LEAF JAZZ BAND

Often, the best music doesn’t get the most intense publicity.  This is especially true for Chris Tyle’s Silver Leaf Jazz Band — a flexible down-home band that could play hot and sweet, and specialized in music that was authentically from the heart — not from someone else’s recordings.  If you don’t know Chris, you’ve missed out on a great deal of memorable jazz: he is one of the finest hot cornetists on the planet, a gutty singer, a splendid clarinetist, and a drummer other drummers speak of admiringly.  He’s also a fine scholar and researcher, so his music projects are based on a deep love of the music rather than simply getting a group together in the studio and saying, “What’s next?”

The compact discs his Silver Leaf Jazz Band recorded are among the most refreshing I know . . . but not enough attention has been paid to them.  I recall, some years ago, being in the car with a musician-friend, who said, “Listen to this and tell me what you think . . . don’t try to identify the musicians, just enjoy the sounds.”  By the time the band was sixteen bars in, I was hooked.

I think JAZZ LIVES readers should be, too.

One of the ironies of the “jazz audience” is that often it gravitates to the Officially Old — those Sam Morgan or Ellington-Blanton discs, or the Brand New — Exx Why and her Girls, recorded in 2012 . . . and what’s in the middle gets forgotten, even by listeners with a wide reach.  This would be a wrong turn . . . !

The first CD I would draw your attention to is by the smallest group: a quartet of Chris, clarinetist Orange Kellin, pianist Steve Pistorius, and drummer John Gill — everyone also takes a turn at the vocal microphone except Orange.  The disc is called NEW ORLEANS WIGGLE (GHB BCD-347) and it features good songs that haven’t been exhausted through overexposure, including a substantial portion of music associated with Armand Piron, Lovie Austin, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Dick Oxtot, and others: NEW ORLEANS WIGGLE / ST. LOUIS BLUES / STOCKYARDS STRUT / RED MAN BLUES / TAKE ME TO THE LAND OF JAZZ / PONCHARTRAIN / HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN / AIN’T NOBODY GOT THE BLUES LIKE ME / YEARNING (JUST FOR YOU) / MESSIN’ AROUND / NEW ORLEANS BLUES / DOWN WHERE THE SUN GOES DOWN / BOUNCING AROUND / MAMMA’S GONE, GOODBYE / MANDY LEE BLUES / STEPPING ON THE BLUES.

A quintet is featured on STREETS AND SCENES OF NEW ORLEANS (Good Time Jazz GTJCD 15001-2): Chris, Jacques Gauthe, clarinet; Dave Sager, trombone; Tom Roberts, piano; John Gill.  They play CONGO SQUARE / SILVER LEAF STRUT / FAREWELL TO STORYVILLE / WEST END BLUES / WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / WHY DON’T YOU GO TO NEW ORLEANS? / PERDIDO STREET BLUES / GALLATIN STREET GRIND / BLUES FOR RAMPART STREET / NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES / BORDER OF THE QUARTER / DECATUR STREET BLUES / WE SHALL WALK THROUGH THE STREETS OF THE CITY / TIN ROOF BLUES / CANAL STREET BLUES / BASIN STREET BLUES / GRAVIER STREET BLUES / BACK O’TOWN BLUES / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? / SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE.  Some familiar tunes here, but none of them rendered in a formulaic way — along with less-played compositions associated with Johnny Wiggs, Johnny Dodds, Ida Cox, and others.

On GREAT COMPOSERS OF NEW ORLEANS JAZZ (Good Time Jazz GTJCD 15005-1), Chris and a larger ensemble offer the most entertaining history lesson I can imagine.  The band is Chris, Mike Owen, trombone; Orange Kellin, Steve Pistorious, piano; Craig Ventresco, guitar / banjo; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums / washboard — with guest appearances from Duke Heitger, trumpet, and Tom Fischer, clarinet / alto sax.  The tunes are a wonderful education in hot jazz: PAPA’S GOT THE JIM-JAMS / WEARY CITY / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE / YOU CAN HAVE IT / GHOST OF THE BLUES / ISN’T THERE A LITTLE LOVE? / EVERYBODY LOVES SOMEBODY BLUES / KLONDYKE BLUES / IT ALL BELONGS TO YOU / RAMBLING BLUES / NUMBER TWO BLUES / I MUST HAVE IT / PECULIAR / COOKIE / PAPA, WHAT YOU ARE TRYING TO DO TO ME I’VE BEEN DOING IT FOR YEARS — music composed by Alcide “Yellow” Nunez, Wingy Manone, Sidney Bechet, Larry Shields, Nick LaRocca, King Oliver, Sharkey Bonano, and a young fellow named Armstrong.

By the time I came to Chris’ Jelly Roll Morton tribute, I had heard a great many of them . . . some stiffly “correct,” others weirdly “innovative.”  But JELLY’S BEST JAM (Good Time Jazz 15002-1) lives up to its name, with Chris, Orange, John Gill (on trombone this time); Tom Roberts, Vince Giordano, string bass, and Hal Smith.  Interspersed among the band performances are four solos Jelly Roll recorded in 1938: CREEPY FEELING / FINGER BUSTER / WININ’ BOY BLUES / HONKY TONK MUSIC.  The band sides are EACH DAY / THE PEARLS / IF SOMEONE WOULD ONLY LOVE ME / MAMA’S GOT A BABY / JELLY ROLL BLUES / SHREVEPORT STOMP / BLUE BLOOD BLUES / KING PORTER STOMP / MISTER JOE / BIG FAT HAM / JUNGLE BLUES / GOOD OLD NEW YORK — all performed with a flair and imagination that Jelly Roll himself would have enjoyed.  For myself, I can testify that this CD is dangerously swinging: I got caught up in KING PORTER STOMP while driving to see the Beloved and missed my exit completely . . . still, it was worth it.

Recently, I asked Chris to tell us something about the birth of this band:

I started working at the Can-Can Cafe, in the Royal Sonesta Hotel [in New Orleans], in early 1992.  I was playing trumpet with clarinetist Barry Wratten’s band.  Barry’s band was there for a few months, was laid-off, then Clive Wilson came in.  After a few months they were laid off.

After Barry’s band got their walking papers, I went to the management and mentioned I had led bands in the past and would be interested in the job if they ever wanted to make a change.  In October, 1992, I got the call to start working there, six nights a week.

I wanted the band to be a success, not only with the public but also with the management.  Luckily, managment were pretty much “hands-off,” leaving me to run things as I thought appropriate.  My vision was for the band to be a “classic” jazz group, not a Bourbon Street dixieland band.  Bearing the latter in mind, however, when we had tour groups I tailored our repertoire to the chestnuts: Bill Bailey, Muskrat Ramble, Saints, etc.  But we played these things in our style, and the people I hired were on the same page as myself, musically. The tourist set(s) aside, there was an incredible amount of quality music played there.  Once the tour group sets were over, we played music written or recorded by King Oliver, Louis, Jelly Roll Morton, the ODJB.  I love obscure pop songs of the 1920s and 1930s, so we’d do those, too.

George Hocutt, a producer who had been involved with the record business for decades, liked the band and encouraged Fantasy Records in Berkeley to ressurect the Good Time Jazz label for new recordings.  Fantasy had been issuing material from the Good Time Jazz catalog for awhile.  So George talked them into recording the Silver Leaf Jazz Band.  We ended up doing three recordings, and George also recorded cornetist Scott Black, clarinetist Tim Laughlin, and clarinetist/soprano saxophonist Jacques Gauthe’.

The band at the Can-Can was always a quartet – which was all the hotel could budget.  But I’d add players for the recordings.  The first, “Street and Scenes of New Orleans”, was the regular band plus trombonist David Sager.  With the Jelly Roll Morton tribute we did a six-piece band, and a seven piece band for the “Great Composers of New Orleans Jazz” CD.

The “Composers” cd is my favorite – mainly for the selection of tunes but also for the playing of the other musicians.  That’s not to say the others aren’t good – they are, and they all got excellent reviews when they were released.  

We also did some nice recordings for Stomp-Off and for George Buck’s label, GHB.  The one we did for George got an incredible rating from the Penguin Guide to Jazz.  There’s only a few recordings in the book that get a special “rosette.”  So our recording, with a quartet, was given the same rating as “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis and “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane.  A few years ago Concord Records bought Fantasy, and even though the Silver Leaf Jazz Band is listed on their website, the CDs are out-of-print.

Fortunately, these four superb discs are still available through Chris — and buying discs direct from the artist is the method I recommend!

They can go to my site – www.tyleman.com, and click on the CD photos.  It will take them to Paypal.  If they want to pay some other way, like check or money order, they can just send me an email: chris@tyleman.com.  I’m asking $14.95 each, but it they order three or more I’ll send the CDs post paid. They would need to contact me for the “special offer.”

I urge you to get these good sounds!

May your happiness increase.

KALLY PRICE IS POWERFULLY HERSELF

Kally Price is a fully realized singer, not for the timid, someone hard to ignore.  She doesn’t create background music.

Price has a controlled emotional power than is remarkable.  It’s not overacting or “dramatic.”  Rather, she has an impassioned definiteness that comes from within; it’s not something she learned how to do in acting school.  She doesn’t shout or rant, but it’s clear she is not going to let anything get in her way when she’s delivering the messages contained in a song.

I had not heard of her before our California trip, but many people told me about her.  They went out of their way to let me know she wasn’t formulaic or ordinary.

I knew IF I HAD A RIBBON BOW from Maxine Sullivan’s wistful 1937 version, and it had always struck me as poignantly girlish: if I had a ribbon bow, then Prince Charming would come and find me.  The singer of this folk song had not been able to learn much about assertiveness training, had never heard of Friedan or Steinem, so the song struck notes of wishing rather than action.  Kally Price’s rendering is powerful, and you imagine her both singing the song (she is faithful to it) and examining it at arm’s length: pity this poor girl in what I imagine is her best frock, waiting for someone to come and love her, much like one of Toni Morrison’s doomed little girls in THE BLUEST EYE.  Kally performs the song with fidelity but is also able to suggest her frustration at being confined to the constricting world of such narrow hopes and aspirations.

If my deconstructing of this text doesn’t appeal to you, sit back from your computer and witness a forceful performance by a musical actress with great skill and undeniable passion.  Her accompanists are Leon Oakley, cornet; Craig Ventresco, guitar; Rob Reich (at the piano instead of the accordion), and Ari Munkres on string bass.  This performance was recorded at San Francisco’s Red Poppy Art House in May 2010, just before Kally recorded her second CD as a leader:

She’s someone serious — not to be taken lightly!

The other performance from the Red Poppy is a fascinating merging of an a cappella I WANT TO LIVE and Price’s reimagining of RHYTHM — not the Gershwins’ classic but the 1933 Spirits of Rhythm perpetual-motion machine.  Again, whether she’s creating a ferocious soliloquy or she’s swinging deeply, Kally Price is someone to take notice of:

I’m making room on my shelves — between Bent Persson and Sammy Price — for Kally Price’s CD . . . coming soon to you from Porto Franco Records.

“PERFECT!”: THE EARREGULARS “COAST TO COAST” (May 1, 2011)

My title comes from a wonderful Bobby Hackett Capitol record date where Bobby (New York by profession, Massachusetts by birth) went out to California with one Jack Teagarden and played with the West Coast boys — COAST CONCERT or COAST TO COAST.  Years ago, such sessions were both novel and fashionable — one side of a Columbia lp devoted to Eddie Condon, the other to the Rampart Street Paraders, or “battles” between East and West Coast players.

No battle here, no head-cutting or manicuring, just beauty.

Last Sunday, the EarRegulars were having a wonderful time at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) — they were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Frank Tate, bass.  They devoted their first set to GREAT JAZZ CITIES OF THE WORLD (without saying a word): thus, CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME; ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS; a slow-drag CHICAGO; ST. LOUIS BLUES; MEMPHIS BLUES, and a few others.  Exquisite soloing, interplay, and creativity.

But I had noticed two familiar faces who nearly surprised me off my barstool — the great San Francisco acoustic guitarist Craig Ventresco and the singer Meredith Axelrod.  They were in town for a flying unannounced family visit — celebrating Craig’s parents’ fiftieth anniversary (hooray for Mr. and Mrs. Ventresco of Maine, hooray!).

Matt Munisteri, bless him, had known Craig was coming . . . so he brought a second guitar for Craig to play.  And lovely things happened.  I knew Craig from my jazz rebirth in 2005 — he played with the Red Onion Jazz Band as well as other floating ensembles (often in the noble company of Kevin Dorn, Jesse Gelber, Barbara Rosene, Michael Bank): he is the poet of archaic music that should never be forgotten — waltzes, stomps, blues, rags, tangos, pop songs — but he also brings depth and richness to any ensemble he’s in.  And Meredith is an unusual combination of demure and passionate, as you’ll hear.

After the set break, everyone settled in for four long sweet performances, which I present here with great delight and pride.  You’ll hear musical jokes, echoes of Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang, the Mississippi Delta coming to Soho, and a great ocean-swell rocking swing . . . music to live for!

They began with the seductively rolling WABASH BLUES — its climbing and descending lines gaining momentum although never getting louder or faster.  Jon-Erik preached through his plunger mute (his sermons are secular but compelling); Pete Martinez showed himself a wonderful dramatic actor on the clarinet, alternating between the primitive and serene; Matt’s lines rang and chimed; Frank brought forth his own brand of casual eloquence.  And Craig played as if sitting on the porch, with all the time in the world:

“Perfect!” you can hear Terry Waldo say — the only thing anyone could say!

After some discussion, the quintet arrived at ROSE ROOM (was it a memory of Charlie Christian or just a good tune to jam on): I savor the conversation between Jon-Erik and Pete in the second chorus, followed by the string section and Pete.  Then there’s Mister Tate, the Abraham Lincoln of the string bass — every note resonating with joy and seriousness.  He knows how to do it, he does!  And then the band, led by Slidin’ Jon Kellso, eases into a rocking motion that would have made the Goodman Sextet of 1941 happy.  (I thought also of the way Ruby Braff slid and danced over his two guitars and bass viol in 1974-5, not a bad memory to have.)  Matt winds and sways in his own fashion — it’s like observing a championship skater improvising on the ice, isn’t it?  And those deliciously playful conversations between Pete and Jon-Erik, then Matt and Craig . . . then some powerful riffing and jiving.  Wow, as we say!

Charlie Levenson, patron saint of informal jazz, suggested SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, and although it was late and ordinary circumstances a closing hot tune would have been the only choice, it was clear that the EarRegulars were having such a good time that no one wanted to end the music a moment too soon.  The EarRegulars and Craig immediately settle into a kind of well-oiled glide that summons up Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Jack Teagarden, and Benny Goodman — or perhaps an imagined Vanguard Records session — swaying sweetly for a good long time.  Soulful is the word for this performance:

For the closing song, Jon-Erik brought Meredith up for MY BLUE HEAVEN — that pastoral / domestic celebration.  Only a very few singers are invited to sit in at The Ear, but Meredith stepped right into the role!  Celebration was what I felt, and I daresay that my joy was shared by many people at The Ear — with more to come because of these videos.  And — since I love cats — Pete’s solo reminds me so much of a kitten with a toy furry mouse, turning it over and batting it around.  He is at the very apex — ask another clarinetist, such as Dan Block!  While the fellows were playing, the political news was on the television above — and Jon-Erik wove DING, DONG, THE WITCH IS DEAD! and YOU RASCAL YOU into his solo — although JAZZ LIVES isn’t about politics but sharing beauty:

This is what Fifty-Second Street must have sounded like.  Only better!  And it exists here and now.  What blessings!

COMING SOON: MICHAEL BANK (October 28, 2010)

The excellent young pianist Michael Bank, whose jazz appearances usually take place north of New York City, is coming to Brooklyn to show off his understated swinging creativity. 

He’ll be joined by the superb bassist Murray Wall, the young guitarist Matt Smith . . . and perhaps other friends as well.  All of this will unfold on Thursday, October 28, 2010 from 6 to 8:30 at PUPPETS JAZZ BAR in Park Slope, located at 481 Fifth Avenue, (718) 499-2622.

Michael has played with a great many swinging small groups in New York and environs: his colleagues include Kevin Dorn, Dan Levinson, Craig Ventresco, Ben Polcer.  He has a witty way of looking at the world — reflected not only in his amused commentaries on his surroundings but also in his playing: restrained, sly, epigrammatic. 

Although he can launch into Waller-stride, he is much more likely (a la Basie, Nat Cole, and Wilson) to let a few notes ring out and ride the rhythmic flow.  I’ve heard him in the worst situations — on an electric keyboard in a room full of noisy brunchers, in the middle of a wildly disorganized big band — and he always provides light.

Here’s Michael with Kevin Dorn’s THE BIG 72, something I recorded live in March 2010 at the Garage in downtown New York City.  Joining him are Charlie Caranicas, trumpet; Adrian Cunningham, alto sax; Pete Martinez, clarinet and vocal; Kelly Friesen, bass; Kevin, drums. 

Don’t miss this!

FEATURING CRAIG VENTRESCO (June 2010)

Here are three wonderful performances recorded on June 6, 2010, by Tom Warner at the Blind Boone Ragtime and Early Jazz Festival, held in Columbia, Missouri.  The players are the brilliant guitarist Craig Ventresco (hear his notes ring!) supported and encouraged by guitarist Johnnie Harper and bassist Svein Aarbostad. 

They begin with a song I first took seriously when I heard Mildred Bailey sing it (backed by Roy Eldridge, Teddy Wilson, and a small band that drew on the voicings and subtlety of the Alec Wilder Octet) — I’M NOBODY’S BABY:

Craig’s dark blues with an even darker title: BLACK MOULD BLUES:

To close the set, this inspiring trio offered an early and somewhat obscure Jelly Roll Morton compositon, BIG FAT HAM:

These performances reminded me of what Jelly Roll said was essential to jazz: it should be “sweet, soft, plenty rhythm.”

CRAIG VENTRESCO, MAGICALLY AFLOAT

On Saturday, March 27, 2010, in San Francisco, I had the good fortune to meet (in person) the tireless video chronicler of West Coast jazz, Rae Ann Berry — a delightful person, as I’d expected — and two jazz friends: Barb Hauser, the energetic friend of the music and musicians, and the peerless guuitarist and philosopher Craig Ventresco.  None of them could stay long — Barb had a date, Craig had a gig at Cafe Atlas, and Rae Ann was going to document it. 

Rae Ann and Craig once again worked wonders — so through the marvel of modern technology and YouTube, we take you now to Cafe Atlas to hear delicious music. 

Playing unaccompanied acoustic guitar is a brave act in almost any context.  Put the guitarist in the middle of an active restaurant and it rises to levels of Olympian exploits.  Craig calmly sits in the midst of traffic, chatter, and distraction.  Servers cross to and fro; drinks are consumed and ordered; cardboard boxes cross our view; the restroom door opens and closes. 

But Craig plays on, apparently immune to the nonmusical forces around him.  With his own internal rhythmic engine, he keeps the pulse going in the most restorative way, never becoming mechanical.  His little rubato digressions are priceless episodes of speculation and ornamentation.  Craig finds the chords that other musicians ignore, and his unadorned sound is an antidote to the buzz and hum around us. 

How he does it I don’t know.  I would find myself glaring at the walkers and talkers.  But he immerses himself in a sea of musical inventiveness and floats above the distractions.

We are so lucky to have him and to have Rae Ann documenting it for us!

Here’s a ruminative look at I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS, even though it was sunny at Cafe Atlas:

And a stirring affirmation of possessiveness — the 1929 pop hit MINE, ALL MINE:

Life-affirming music.  Emersonian self-reliance isn’t dead, and it even has a guitar.

SAN FRANCISCO JOYS (March 24, 2010)

Rae Ann Berry took her video camera to Cafe Divine yesterday (that’s March 24, 2010) to capture the inspired duo of Clint Baker (trumpet, trombone, and more) and Craig Ventresco (the guitar-orchestra).  These two videos are a special kind of jazz — the music that musicians play for themselves when they’re alone or when no one is listening too closely.  It’s hot, fervent, and adventurous — if you make a mistake, you moan and keep playing, for this kind of relaxed playing needs a mistake or two to be real. 

Here Clint and Craig perform a properly slow-moving version of SAVOY BLUES, from the Hot Five book:

And — also circa 1926 — here’s ORIENTAL MAN, complete with verse:

Divine stuff!  I’m looking forward to meeting Rae Ann — in a non-cyber incarnation — this weekend in San Francisco, where I can say THANK YOU! in person.

CLINT BAKER + CRAIG VENTRESCO = IDEAL JAZZ TRIO

See for yourself in these two December 2008 performances recorded by Rae Ann Berry, where Clint triples on trumpet, guitar, and vocal, and Craig doubles on banjo and guitar. 

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS comes from Clint and Alisa Clancy’s jazz class / end of the year party:

IF I COULD BE WITH YOU (ONE HOUR TONIGHT) was captured at the less quiet Cafe Divine, but it a marvel nonetheless:

Craig doesn’t terribly much like to be called a “jazz” player, and he has little enthusiasm for modern guitarists who rely on Django reinhardt licks, but these two performances remind me — so delightfully — of the sides Django made in 1939 with the Ellingtonians Rex Stewart, BArney Bigard, and Billy Taylor.  Sweet, intense, heartfelt yet casual music. 

Incidentally, both Clint and Craig have their own websites (on my blogroll) where you can not only see video clips but find out where they are playing next.

BARRELHOUSE GOES TO CHURCH

Pianist Virginia Tichenor (casually fierce) and plectral shaman Craig Ventresco offer meditations on Joe Oliver’s RIVERSIDE BLUES (composed by Thomas A. Dorsey) — which contains blues and hymns superimposed. (MABEL’S DREAM has a similarly-shaped Trio section, in mood if not in chords — perhaps both of those multi-strain compositions owe much to brass-band march music.) 

 

 Silverware and dishes crash; someone in the audience unwisely attempts to whistle the melody.  But none of this deters Virginia and Craig from their intense, holy, funky pursuits.  Frank Melrose approves.  Thanks once more to SFRae Ann and her magic camera!

DOGGIN’ AROUND, or SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

Melissa Collard pointed out this YouTube extravaganza.  It has something for everyone: lovers of custom-made guitars, dog fanciers, ukulele mavens, conoisseurs of SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.  Of course it comes from the dynamic duo of West Coast string music, Craig Ventresco and Meredith Axelrod:

Here’s Meredith’s commentary: “Craig Ventresco the Mad Scientist of the Strings (as I call him) plays Sweet Georgia Brown on ukulele. This feat is especially impressive because he has his dog sleeping in his lap the whole time.  He is one talented virtuoso!  (Craig’s not so bad either.  We almost had the dog play uke, but decided at the last minute to use Craig instead.)  I accompany him on a custom-made guitar build by Todd Cambio of Wisconsin.  The brand is Fraulini.  Dog is Mr. Woofles.  Mr. Woofles plays the ukulele about as well as Craig, and he also can perform operations in advanced algebra at the university level.”

I see a future for this trio!

CRAIG VENTRESCO: “I MUST HAVE IT”

I first met Craig in 2005 or so, when he was playing guitar and banjo with the Red Onion Jazz Band (under the irascible leadership of drummer Bob Thompson); he impressed me profoundly as a soloist and as a living curator of music and musical forms that the world threatened to ignore.  The Hit Parade of 1905; Zon-o-Phone records; tangos, waltzes, stomps, and blues.  It is so reassuring to know that while we are sleeping on the East Coast, Craig is taking his time, showing no strain, displaying the easy intensity that marks the greatest players.  Here he is at one of his usual haunts, Cafe Divine, gliding through King Oliver’s “I Must Have It.”  Damn, Craig, you surely do have it. Don’t lose it, please?

CANGELOSI CARDS: SWEET SATORI!

bamjo-jims

Because of a much-appreciated friendly email nudge from Jim Balantic, the Beloved and I (with Flip tagging along) wended our way down to Banjo Jim’s last Monday night.

Banjo Jim’s sits at the corner of Ninth Street and Avenue C.  The area feels much like the mysterious East but it was worth the trip.  The club is a small squarish room with tables, stools, and a bar (the latter presided over by the cheerfully expert “Banjo” Lisa).  Banjo Jim’s is a neighborhood hangout, and it offers a dazzling variety of groups who play for the tip basket.

The crowd is mostly younger people, which I find encouraging, and even when the chat level gets high, they get reverently quiet when the band begins a ballad or they sense something unusual is happening.  (And, when feelings run high, there’s a good deal of fervent jitterbugging and even slow-motion tangoing in front of the band.)

Of course the club has a website: www.banjojims.com., and a MySpace page:  www.myspace.com/banjojims — everyone seems to have a MySpace page except the Beloved and myself.  (Flip isn’t telling.)

We were there because of the regular Monday night gig of the Cangelosi Cards, that musical cornucopia, and Jim’s news that their splendid singer Tamar Korn had been working on Boswell Sisters-inspired repertoire with two other harmonizing women.

And — this is no small matter — Tamar had graciously agreed to do some of the new trio material in the band’s first set (their gig ordinarily runs from 9 PM to 2:30 AM) so that the nine-to-fivers could hear some of it before their ancient eyelids began to sag.  I was especially grateful to her for this kindness, because my clock radio makes itself known four mornings a week at 5:45 AM.

When we arrived, we were met on the sidewalk by Jim and his wife Grace and a beaming Tamar; Tamar and I talked happily until our faces began to grow numb from the cold.  We spoke of the Boswell Sisters, and how their vocal arrangements seemed to have the same intense purity of chamber music — to be revered, but also to be improvised on in a personal style.  Tamar said that she and her two friends — Mimi Terris and Naomi Uyama — found that they could do instant improvisation in the style they loved on songs the Boswells had never recorded, which suggests that they have moved well beyond imitative groups, and there have been a few.  (Copying the Boswell Sisters, incidentally, is not at all easy to do.)

Inside, a young band, calling itself “The Scandinavian Half Breeds,” no fooling, was plunking away.  That foursome, offered surrealistic gypsy swing, some Thirties songs, and some lopsided yet earnest singing. The Scandinavians have a CD for sale — a mere five dollars — and they also have a MySpace page with audio samples: www.myspace.com/scandinavianhalfbreeds.

But they were what my people call a forshpeits – an appetizer, an amuse-bouche before the entree.

The Cards were at full strength: in addition to Tamar, they had Marcus Millius on harmonica, Karl Meyer on violin, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, Jake Sanders on guitar (he set tempos and routines as well), Cassidy Holden on string bass, Matt Musselman on trombone, and Gordon Webster on piano.

Here’s some of what Flip, that tidy little fellow, captured.  I have to point out that Banjo Jim’s isn’t a movie set, so that people walk in front of Flip (he’s used to it) and there were couples gyrating in front of the lens.  These clips offer atmospheric cinema verite of a particularly unbuttoned sort, but I think it’s in keeping with the spirit of the club and the Cards, who are more like an ecstatic travelling ceremony than a formal orchestra.  And that’s high praise.

Here’s a wonderful rocking version of “I Ain’t Got Nobody”:

In the name of accuracy, I have to say it begins in darkness — but soon your eyes make out the nimble fingers of Jake Sanders playing his National steel guitar in the wonderful manner I associate with the West Coast genius Craig Ventresco.  Then it starts to rock, and rock hard.  This is the kind of music that great improvisers of any kind make when no one is paying attention, when they are blissfully playing for themselves.  And the dancers!  Tamar couldn’t keep still at the beginning, and the whole room was swaying, although Flip couldn’t take his little monocular self away from the band.  (He’s a fan.  Now it can be told.)

The Cards decided to slow the tempo down — and Tamar explored a truly lovely ballad, “It’s Like Reaching For the Moon,”  which most people know, if at all, through Billie’s version.  Examined closely, the song is a rather simple motif, repeated, and the lyrics aren’t exactly Larry Hart.  (Charlie Levenson, jazz man-about-town, was sitting next to me, and he kept muttering ecstatically, “I love this song.  This is my favorite song!” so perhaps I am being too harsh.)  But what lifts it above the ordinary is Tamar’s singing — full of genuine yearning.  We believe her, as do the Cards.

After two songs about unfulfilled love, even at different tempos, it was time to explore another dramatic situation, and the Cards turned to Irving Berlin’s satiric Socialism (like “Slummin’ On Park Avenue,” it has a sharp political subtext).  Catch the weaving, seductive tempo they choose, and admire Matt’s wicked trombone playing:

Then it was time for what Jim had promised: Tamar, Mimi Terris, and Naomi Uyama got together on the tiny bandstand (this is one of those clubs where nothing delineates the end of the Audience and the beginning of the Stage, which is a truly good thing in this case) for “Moonglow,” which was properly ethereal.  These girls have it:

We were glowing!  The set ended with another loving consideration of meteorological phenomena, “Stardust,” which Tamar said she “learned from the music,” but clearly she, Naomi, and Mimi are well beyond the notes on the page, into some beautifully mystical realm:

When the Cards’ set was over, it was around 11:30 — time for the aging wage-slaves to find their cars and drive home.  But there was more!

As we were getting ready to go, Tamar said there was one more Boswell Sisters piece that she, Mimi, and Naomi had been working on.  They planned to perform it much later on but knew we would want to hear it.  Would we mind waiting for them?  Jim, Grace, and I looked at each other, grinned, wrapped our coats a little tighter, and waited on Avenue C.  In a few minutes, the Girl Trio came out (as an unrequested surrogate parent, I checked that their coats were properly buttoned up).

The trio positioned themselves in front of us on Ninth Street, and began a most unearthly beautiful a cappella rendition of the Sisters’ radio theme, “Shout, Sister, Shout.”  As you may remember, that’s a moody slow-drag, all about how singing the right way has Satan on the run.  (Would that this were the case.)  Their voices were pure and low-down at the same time, soulful and intense.  I listened, transfixed.

In an odd way, it was as close to being a royal patron of the arts as I will ever be — with Mozart playing his new piece near the dinner table to give the guests a little night music.  It was eerie, lovely, and awe-inspiring. . . as if Beauty had slipped her arms around me while I stood out in the cold.

Listening to live jazz is, with luck, a series of special moments when a listener feels that Something Rare is taking place, and it often is.  But it’s even rarer for a musician or musicians to create such tender intimacy that the listener feels, “They are playing this song just for me.”

Even though I knew it was an illusion, I felt that way while Lee Wiley sang in her 1972 farewell concert in Carnegie Hall, and I remember a much more personal example.  Once, Stu Zimny and I went to hear Roy Eldridge at Jimmy Ryan’s — this would have been the same year.  Ryan’s was an inhospitable place for college kids who wanted to make their bottle of Miller High Life (awful beer even at $2.50 a bottle) last for hours.  Roy must have been playing another gig, so his place was taken by the veteran Louis Metcalf, who had played with King Oliver and Duke Ellington in the Twenties.  He was a far less electrifying player than Roy, but one moment cannot be erased.  On a medium-tempo “Rosetta,” Metcalf put his Harmon mute (the stem still attached) in his horn and went from table to table, playing a half-chorus here and there, six inches from our ears.  I can no longer remember the shape of his solo or the contours of the melodic paraphrase, but the experience — jazz at the closest possible range — gave me delighted chills then and I can see it now.

This version of “Shout, Sister,Shout,” girlish and earnest, graceful and disembodied — their three voices harmonizing as if in the middle of the darkness — was even more electrifying.  As I drove home, shaken and levitated, I thought, “I might have died and never heard this.  My God, I am lucky!”

To experience something of the same repertoire — although I can’t promise that you will have a private serenade on the sidewalk — be sure to follow the Cards wherever they go.  If you judge musicians by the quality of their formal wear, the Cards seem loose and casual, but the musical experiences they offer you won’t encounter elsewhere.  Blazing enlightenment is possible if you’re listening closely.

CHARLESTON IS THE BEST DANCE AFTER ALL

A delicious interlude: Lynne Koehlinger and Peter Varshavsky do an inspired Charleston routine to  Jimmie Noone’s “Every Evening,” at the 2008 Gatsby Ball.   
 
Lynne and Peter defy the laws of physics.  At some points, they seem to be moving in slow motion, with every kick and turn clear, never blurred.  But you know that they’re really dancing at an exhausting pace.  Hard work made to seem effortless!  Their routine has a lovely shape: they begin as a couple in perfect physical harmony, then break out for inspired capers during Earl Hines’s solo and the stop-time chorus, and conclude as a pair.  It’s worthy of Olympic consideration.  Why there isn’t a category for Jazz Dance still mystifies me.  Let’s call it Hot Made Visible.
Thanks to SUN, the Singers’ Underground Network (I just made that up) of Meredith Axelrod and Melissa Collard, who passed this gem on to me.  And now, to you.   
Dramatis Personae:
Melissa Collard should be someone readers of this blog know and admire.  Her first CD, OLD FASHIONED LOVE, is a treasure.  Rumor has it that she and Hal Smith have completed a second one, which is great news. 
Meredith Axelrod, who often works with guitar genius Craig Ventresco, has thoroughly internalized the vocal styles of the early twentieth-century in a way both eerie and exhilirating. 
  

JULIE FOLLANSBEE, MANNY FARBER, AND KID ORY

kid-ory-78As much as I love jazz, I love the stories that attach themselves to the players, the records, the places the music inhabits.  Earlier today, on WNYC-FM, Leonard Lopate spoke with Kent Jones and Philip Lopate about the flim critic and painter Manny Farber, who celebrated subversive “termite art.” I never met Manny Farber, so my connection to him, perhaps tenuous, exemplifies two or perhaps three degrees of New York separation.

It was, however, my privilege to know the actress and entrancing personality Julie Pratt Shattuck, born Julie Follansbee.  Julie died on August 16 of this year.  She was 88.  I  was introduced to her by her dear friend Harriet O’Donovan Sheehy (widow of the great Irish writer Frank O’Connor — and my benefactor as well).

Julie wasn’t tall, but she seemed regally so — without being stuffy.  Her diction was elegant,  but she delighted in delivering tiny hilarious shocks.  I was standing next to her at a downtown art show when, for whatever reason, she turned to me and recited the limerick about the young man from Madras.  I still haven’t recovered.

Her blue eyes would flash and she would laugh uproariously.  She was one of the most vividly alive people I have ever met; she loved a party, and until her final illness, the word “Whee!” punctuated her talk.  Lucky me! — to have been invited to 242 East 68th Street for tea, the occasional tiny glass of bourbon, dinner — and wonderful stories.

Julie knew that I was immersed in jazz.  I gave a party at her brownstone where the great guitarist Craig Ventresco played and awed everyone.  I also remember a wonderful evening when a trio of Julie, myself, and her friend Roseli Olivera went to the Cajun to hear Kevin Dorn’s band play, where Julie sat, awash in the music, her eyes closed, her head swaying, her face a portrait of bliss.  Once, she mentioned that she had a small collection of 78 rpm records.  Would I like them?  Yes, I said, I would.

Sometime in 2007, then, I went to her brownstone and Julie gave me these 78 rpm records:

Jack Teagarden (Brunswick): Ol’ Pappy / Fate-thee-Well to Harlem

Duke Ellington (Victor): Jubilee Stomp / Black Beauty

Gene Krupa’s Swing Band (Victor): I’m Gonna Clap My Hands / Mutiny in the Parlor

Bessie Smith (Columbia): Empty Bed Blues, Part I and 2

Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers (Victor): Shake It and Break It / Wild Man Blues

Old Man Blues / Nobody Knows the Way I Feels Dis Morning (as printed on the label)

Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven / Five (UHCA): Potato Head Blues / Put ‘Em Down Blues

Sister Ernestine Anderson acc. Bunk Johnson’s Jazz Band (Disc): Does Jesus Care / The Lord Will Make A Way Somehow

Kid Ory’s Jazz Band (Crescent): Creole Song / South

J.C. Higginbotham / Frank Newton Quintets (Blue Note): Weary Land Blues / Daybreak Blues

Boris Rose acetate disc: Body and Soul (Hawkins) / I Can’t Get Started (Berigan)

Dizzy Gillespie (Manor): I Can’t Get Started / Good Bait

Bob Wilber’s Wildcats, with Dick Wellstood at the Barrelhouse Steinway (Rampart): Chimes Blues / Old Fashioned Love

I was thrilled: Julie had always been generous to me, and she saw the joy on my face of even having these precious artifacts to leaf through.  The records had been well-played, which I found touching, and they, taken together, suggested someone’s deep love and understanding of jazz in its many manifestations.

“Did you collect jazz records?” I asked Julie.

“Oh, no, these weren’t mine,” she said.

I looked at her quizzically.

manny-farber“Do you know of Manny Farber?” she continued, and I was happy to say that I did.

“Well, when I was living in the Village, sometime in the late Forties, he came around to call.  I don’t recall how I met him.  But he brought these records with him, and he left them behind.”

Sensing that there was some bit of narrative hidden under that calm surface, I just looked at her.

Julie said cheerfully, “Oh, he wanted to sleep with me.  But I wasn’t interested in him.  And he never came back for the records.”

At that time, Manny Farber was still alive, 90 or 91years old.  Julie and I discussed, whimsically, whether I should write him a note and say, “By the way, would you like your records back?  Julie has been keeping them for you,” an idea that never took shape.  For those who savor coincidence, Manny Farber died on August 17, 2008, one day after Julie did.

I miss her.  I’m sorry I didn’t visit her more often.  And I’m sorry that when I looked for a picture of her on Google, none came up — although the many DVDs of the films in which she appears did.  I say “Whee!” in her honor, and thank her for this story and this gift, one of so many.

P.S.  And my hero Eddie Condon signed people’s autograph books with “Whee!”  Great minds think alike, exuberantly so.

A JAZZ HOLIDAY — CHAUTAUQUA 2008

Jazz at Chautauqua, the cherished baby of Joe Boughton and the Allegheny Jazz Society, whirled around for yet the eleventh year — filling the hours of September 18 – 21 with hot jazz, rare songs, and sweet, swinging lyricism.  It was my fifth visit there, and the Beloved’s first.  We had a wonderful time, tearing ourselves away from the music at regular intervals to walk the Chautauqua grounds, with their elaborately done houses, the leaves already changing, and the glory of Lake Chautauqua.  We took a number of meals on the wide wooden porch of the Athenaeum Hotel, with high-level sitters-in who were carrying plates of food rather than horns and charts: Marty Grosz, Bob Reitmeier, Nina Favara . . . and we got to hang out with Jackie Kellso and Becky Kilgore, Ray Cerino and Carol Baer, David and Maxine Schacker (creators of BEING A BEAR).

By my count, there were about forty sets of music, starting at breakfast and going on until 1:30 AM.  When I was younger and more vigorous in 2004, I devoted myself with a pilgrim’s determination to hearing every last note, with Coffee as my friend and non-prescription ally.  Eventually, I couldn’t sit and listen to even the world’s best jazz for that long.  Everything, including the cerebral cortex, set up a protest.

So here are some highlights, admittedly a subjective list, but, as the narrator of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight says, “To tell all the tale would tax my five wits.”  I was too busy taking notes to take pictures, so readers who want visual stimuli should go to www.mississippirag.com for the October issue, which will be festooned with photographs by John Bitter.

I’ve written about the Thursday festivities (see WITH DISPATCH AND VIGOR) but Friday began to pop with two wonderful sets.  One was led by Jon-Erik Kellso, oddly, his only formal opportunity to do this all weekend, which I find mysterious. because he is an engaging, funny leader.  His set featured lively old songs at the front and back, “Alice Blue Gown” and a Louis-inflected “Some of These Days,” but the middle was even better — Dan Block and Jon-Erik on the 1933 romance “The Day You Came Along,” which managed to summon up both Bing and Hawkins, a neat trick.  Then Bob Havens, exploding all over the horn like a teenager, charged through Harry Warren’s “42nd Street,” a song neglected by jazz players, more’s the pity.  And a delicate, plaintive “Always” featured Block on bass clarinet and Bob Reitmeier on clarinet — not evoking Soprano Summit or the Apex Club Orchestra, but some otherworldly strain, Debussy with a beating Thirties heart.

Becky Kilgore’s set was too short but each song was a neat surprise.  Backed by the endearing Joe Wilder, who moved from bucket mute to his red-and-white metal derby to his fluegelhorn, Dan Barrett being himself, and the ever-thoughtful Rossano Sportiello, Becky offered a happy “Getting Some Fun Out of Life,” whose title seemed more true than ever, “But Not For Me” with a pensive verse, and a sly “Little White Lies,” dedicated to “the politicians.”  In an enlighted administration, our Becky could sing at the Inaugural Ball, but I don’t hold out great hopes for this.

A Saturday-morning Duke Heitger extravaganza was notable for a slow-dance “Whispering” which began with a lovely Ingham introduction, romantic and sweet.  Music to hug by!  Eventually the band decided they had had enough of good behavior and doubled the tempo (Duke turned into Bunny Berigan at points) moving on to a riotous Condon finale with earth-shaking breaks from Arnie Kinsella, unbridled even before lunchtime.

Rather like Becky’s cameo of the previous evening, a Joe Wilder – Rossano Sportiello duet seemed over before we had had time to accustom ourselves to the magical idea of hearing them together with no interference (and with Joe getting to pick the songs he wanted to play, which isn’t always the case).  Tender versions of “Embraceable You” and “Skylark” paved the way for a steadily moving “Idaho,” memorably energetic.  Joe’s glossy tone has become more a speaking utterance in recent years, which is even more personal, and Rossano is my idea of Jazz Ecumenism — getting Fats Waller and Bud Powell to shake hands whenever he plays.

A Marty Grosz set was devoted to the memory of the vocalist, comb-and-tissue paper virtuoso, and bandleader Red McKenzie, about whose music no one is lukewarm.  Typically, we enjoyed a long winding Marty-narrative, full of priceless jazz arcana and some wicked comedy, but it showed off his convincing crooning on “I’ve Got The World On A String.”  The group that backed him — Block, Andy Stein on violin, and the irreplaceable Vince Giordano, seemed the perfect modern embodiment of Joe Venuti’s Blue Four.  About enjoyment, incidentally: Joe Boughton introduced Marty and ended with the ritualistic crypto-command, “Enjoy.”  Marty, who can be as dangerous as a drawer full of scissors, replied, while he was settling in, “I don’t make music to be enjoyed,” as if the concept offended his fastidious self.  But we did, anyway.  So there!

The Wisconsin Bixians (Andy Schumm and Dave Bock) once again got to play with their heroes — Reitmeier, Stein, James Dapogny, Vince, Marty, and Arnie Kinsella — the all-star rhythm team of the weekend or perhaps of this century? — and proved themselves up to the challenge.  Except for a pretty “At Sundown,” they chose Bix-rompers from 1927-8, “Jazz Me Blues,” “Clarinet Marmalade,” and “Somebody Stole My Gal,” making me think of Bix and Miff Mole in some ideal alternate universe, backed by Tesch, Sullivan, Condon, Artie Bernstein, and Krupa.

Keeping the momentum and the mood, Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks showed themselves off as the Jazz Larks.  We”ve all heard the band parse early Pollack, Challis, Isham Jones, Ellington — but this was a leaping ensemble of veteran alumni, fully warmed up.  The Beloved turned to me and murmured, “Vince is in his glory,” and we all were.  Kellso, Block, and Havens sang out — no surprise!

That evening, a lovely set featured Duke Heitger, Havens, Bobby Gordon, the priceless rhythm section mentioned above, and Kellso.  After a casual “Tea for Two,” everyone cut loose (especially Gordon) on “Mahogany Hall Stomp.”  Jon-Erik and Duke are old Midwestern pals, and Kellso was Duke’s model and mentor when neither of them had a driver’s license.  It wasn’t a cutting contest but a friendly reunion, but the two of them gave me chills on “If We Never Meet Again.”  The rafters rang — not with volume, but with passion and a shouting tenderness, which is no oxymoron when you have players who have devoted their lives to it.

Later that night, a set led by Randy Reinhart again showed off two trumpets, as he and Jon exploded into “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” reminding me of Louis’s Decca big band version and a short passage from a film about Dick Gibson’s jazz parties where Ruby Braff and Clark Terry duetted on the sidewalk while fireworks went off around them.  Another touching Reitmeier-Block duet (clarinet and bass-clarinet) on “I Got It Bad” made me wish that every set had had two ballad performances.  (At parties, musicians get excited about playing with their friends, so tempos and volume sometimes rise.)

Sunday morning — at a pre-consciousness hour for most musicians — began with a solo set by Dapogny.  I haven’t said much about him in this post, but I was tremendously impressed with him as an ensemble pianist as well as a soloist.  I had gotten happily used to the idea of his stomping propulsion at previous Chautauquas, his forceful accuracy (think Sullivan, Hines, Fats) but time and again he surprised us all by going into unexpected harmonic corners, playing phrases that were the very opposite of formulas.  And how he swung the bands he was in!

Marty Grosz’s Sunday set honored mid-Thirties Red Allen.  In fairness, the musicians were sight-reading the charts, so there was an uncertain passage here and there . . . but who among us would do better?  I was nearly stunned by the band’s vehement “Jamaica Shout,” which I would assume refers to the Queens neighborhood rather than the Caribbean, but this may be mere speculation.

Finally, a marvelous quartet took the stand — Bob Wilber, his tone still glossy, his rhythmic intensity still intact at eighty, Jon-Erik, blinking slightly in the unaccustomed daylight, Marty and Vince — the best people to summon up the ferocious glories of the 1940 Bechet-Spanier Big Four recordings for the Hot Record Society.  (When I visited guitarist Craig Ventresco, he had the original 12″ 78s, which seemed holy relics — and they still sounded fine on his three-speed phonograph!)  A peerless quartet, deep in contrapuntal hot ensembles and soaring solos.

With regret, the Beloved and I left before it was all over to begin the day-long drive back to New York City, both exhausted and thrilled by the music.

The rewarding thing about Jazz at Chautauqua is that I began to write this post with the idea of including only a few highlights — but there were so many asterisks and exclamation points in my notebook that the idea of a “few” quickly became impossible.  For every set I mentioned, for every solo, there were two or three more of equal quality — a true jazz holiday!  The music rings in my ears as I sit at the keyboard.